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MLB Breakout Predictions: NL West

Caption: NL West Teams

by Ryan Harless

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

February 23, 2023

Welcome back to my series predicting breakout stars for every Major League Baseball (MLB) team for the 2023 season. This time, we are rounding out the National League (NL) with the Western Division.

The West is always a tough division with 2-3 teams in playoff contention yearly. The Colorado Rockies finished in last place last year, so they get to kick off this list.

The Rockies are a very young team this year with their longest tenured player at eight years of experience (Randal Grichuk) and their oldest player being only 37 (Daniel Bard).

I think their breakout performer will be someone who has had a few years in the league, but hasn’t yet lived up to his first round hype. Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers was drafted 3rd overall in 2015 and although he has played 100+ games the last two seasons, he has yet to live up to amazing numbers at the plate.

This is not to discredit his work at the plate either. Rodgers has slashed .274/.326/.434 over the last two seasons which is more than acceptable for a shortstop of his caliber, especially if he is able to keep winning Gold Gloves.

Rodgers has also put-up decent power numbers averaging 14 homers and 26 doubles. Last year, he proved that he is capable of being more patient at the plate and can take walks if he doesn’t get his pitch. He more than doubled his walk count from 2021 in just 30 more games.

I think Rodgers will slash .290/.350/.460 with 20 homers as well as bringing his second consecutive Gold Glove to Colorado. I also anticipate him to be on the long list of people receiving MVP votes.

Finishing ahead of the Rockies were the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is another relatively young team with only a handful of players with more than 5 years of experience.

Arizona is looking to shock people this season and possibly even make a run for a Wild Card spot.

My pick for their breakout star is going to be Gabriel Moreno. Although he will be splitting time with Carson Kelly behind the plate, I think he can take the starting position by the All-Star break.

Through 25 games last season, Moreno hit .319, which is what he has done his entire career as he has a .310 average through five Minor League seasons. Especially in today’s game, finding a catcher who can hit for average is increasingly rare and, in turn, valuable.

I look for Moreno to catch 100 games for Arizona this year and slash .290/.360/.400 as well as possibly capturing a Gold Glove.

Finishing the middle of the Western Division last season were the San Francisco Giants. This brings us to the first of three (spoiler alert) pitchers I have chosen for this list. The Giants have a lot of talent but most of it is holed up in their pitching staff.

I think this player is only going to improve after his coming out party last year where he finished 11th in Cy Young voting.

This player is Logan Webb. The now 26-year-old, entering his 5th MLB season, put up career best numbers last season with his 192.1 innings pitched and 2.90 ERA.

Webb looks to be the best option to become the new ace in San Fran. He reminds me a lot of prime Matt Cain, another all time Giant great from those 2010-2014 dynasty years.

If the Giants’ lineup is able to provide good or even decent run support for Webb, look for him to possibly start the All-Star game.

I predict Webb will throw 200+ innings this season and keep his sub 3.00 ERA yet again. Webb is primarily a contact pitcher so I don’t expect his strikeout numbers to be very high, but he will still probably have at least 140 Ks.

Finishing in second place in the West in 2022, were the San Diego Padres, another team looking to make it back to the playoffs and to finally make that elusive World Series run.

The Padres are shaping up to contend again, and I expect a large contributor will be Brent Honeywell Jr. Honeywell hasn’t seen big league action since he started two games and pitched in three for the Rays in 2021.

Honeywell has struggled with the injury bug since being drafted in 2014 and spent 2018-2020 out of professional baseball rehabbing and working to get back into shape.

This being said, he is one of my favorite pitchers to watch as he is possibly the last Major League Baseball player/pitcher who still throws a screwball (outside of Brewers’ pitcher Devin Williams “changeup”).

I think that if Honeywell can stay healthy and throw 120 innings, he can keep his ERA around 3.30 and punch out 150+ batters. I really look forward to watching Honeywell in the coming years as he promises to become a dominant starter.

Finally, we’ve reached the last National League team in this series, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are always expecting a playoff berth and this year is no different.

I think this player has finally worked his way into an everyday role as well as helping to end the revolving door of relievers/closers the Dodgers have been working with ever since Kenley Janson left.

Brusdar Graterol is my choice for their breakout star in the 2023 season. Last year he appeared in 46 games, accruing 49.1 innings and allowing only 39 hits and 20 runs for an ERA of 3.26.

Along with his desirable numbers, Graterol is a treat to watch pitch as he touches triple digits with his fastball as effortlessly as you or I might toss a wad of paper into the trash can.

And while his ERA was a little higher than you would like out of your everyday closer, his fielding independent pitching or FIP, was 2.95. FIP takes into account errors and situations to determine a pitcher’s ERA using only things the pitchers themselves can control.

I predict that Graterol will play in 60 games this season and notch 40+ saves along with a 2.50 ERA over the course of 75 innings. Along with Webb, Graterol could easily become a starter in this year’s Mid-Summer Classic.

Money: The Most Extreme Goal

Caption: New York Yankees Executive Brian Cashman

By Ryan Harless

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

January 25, 2023

Earlier this month, I wrote an article discussing how different teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) choose to spend their money. As most team sport leagues go, not every team in the league is built the same. Environmental factors are relatively out of the hands of the team owners. The city the team plays in and its economy can all impact a team’s ability to spend money.

We often categorize teams into two categories: large-market and small-market. It’s a pretty cut and dry concept, teams in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago have larger shares of the market and are more likely to spend more money on their teams. Smaller cities like Cincinnati, Denver, and St. Louis will be more likely to have teams that spend less.

In an article written in 2012, teams were relegated to high, middle, and low markets. Teams were put into those categories based on the population of their city, their payroll per year, and their average cost per win. Through these different measurements, they were able to get a good breakdown of just where teams lie. Even just 10 years ago most of the teams are in the same place they were then.

There are some areas where you might think a team would be in a large market, yet they rarely spend money like others do. Examples of this would be the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays. They are both based in relatively large markets in Florida, but both teams ranked among the bottom 10 teams in the league for payroll in 2022.

It is staggering to see the variances in payroll across the league, with the New York Mets ranking number one in payroll at $235.6 million for just one year, whereas the Cleveland Guardians who ranked last only paid their players a total of $29.1 million.

Here’s where one of my favorite parts of baseball comes into play, however. Both of these teams made the playoffs. Not only that, but the Guardians survived longer than the Mets who lost to the Padres (2022 payroll of $184.5 million) in the Wild Card round. Cleveland was eliminated in the next round by the Yankees ($249 million payroll) but it just goes to show that spending more money doesn’t always produce a winning team.

Now, while spending money guarantees nothing for your team, spending little to no money does guarantee you something as a team. Concern from your fans.

As I talked about in my previous article, every team in MLB is largely profitable on a year-to-year basis. There is only one current team that Forbes had sitting below $1 billion dollars in value, that being the Miami Marlins which was valued at $990 million.

The fact that so many of these low-ranking teams (based on payroll) could still afford to spend more makes little sense to me. Oftentimes, owners will excuse their spending habits by saying that they are in a small-market and players are going to chase the larger sums of money elsewhere. But if you look at how much the team could be spending on players to improve the team, that statement doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I just cannot see a reason as to why the owner of a team would intentionally not spend money towards improving their team if they are underperforming. Of course, there are situations where it makes sense not to spend money, such as when a team is undergoing a rebuild.

A rebuild is just what it sounds like. More than likely, the team has struggled for a few years and has built up a good farm system of prospects. So, the team will save money for when the prospects make it to the majors and perform well, and then be signed to long term contracts.

But what happens when the team isn’t in a rebuild or has been in a rebuild for years with nothing to show for it? The Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds come to mind when you think of this. Both teams are toward the bottom of the list in team value and yearly payroll and have been stuck there for years.

These teams both have histories of trading away very talented homegrown players for aging veterans. Or they will let players walk in free agency after a year of great numbers because they don’t think they can afford what the player is asking.

The A’s traded away Josh Donaldson just a few seasons before he won the MVP with the Toronto Blue Jays. The A’s more recently traded their talented corner infielders, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, with little to show in return. The Reds refused to reach out to their star outfielder Nick Castellanos with an offer after he declined his option. They let now infamous Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer go to the Dodgers after winning his award.

The owners of these teams will just continue along the paths that they are currently on unless something is done to prevent it.

This is something very similar to “tanking” in the NFL or the NBA, but with a twist. See, in those leagues, teams will tank to improve their chances of securing better players in the next season’s draft. But with those leagues, the pipeline from the draft to the league is often a lot quicker than in MLB.

Players typically spend 2 or 3 years in the minor leagues working and honing their craft so they can perform at the major league level. There is a lower correlation between a player’s pre-draft numbers and how they actually perform. That is why I see the owners’ action as nothing more than padding their own pockets with the revenue the team brings in.

If they don’t have to spend their money to get large returns on it, and if they have little to no interest in winning, then why wouldn’t they? Until the league is able to force team owners to place a certain portion of their teams’ value and revenue back into it, I’m not sure what is going to change for the teams and fans of the teams who are going through this process.

It is really difficult to continue rooting for your favorite team every year when you have little hope for them and their future. But, as a famed Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini once said, “Well, where are you gonna go?”

Trevor Story is Writing His Own Story

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

Major League Baseball kicked off the 2016 season on April 3rd and the first week has been an entertaining one to say the least. There were a couple interesting storylines going into the season such as how Zack Greinke would do in his first start for the Arizona Diamondbacks, if the Chicago Cubs would be able to meet expectations, and whether the San Francisco Giants would be able to win the World Series again with this being an even year. But Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story has stolen the spotlight during week 1.

                                         Image via http://www.m.mlb.com

2 off-seasons the Rockies traded their superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays for SS Jose Reyes among others. Fans were shocked that the team decided to ship their franchise player to Toronto but most understood that they are in the midst of rebuilding for the future. After arriving in Colorado, Reyes finished the 2015 season productively but this past off-season the veteran was brought up on domestic violence charges in Hawaii. Currently the MLB has placed Reyes on paid leave and a timetable for his return is uncertain, but the question now is will he even have a starting spot when he returns? The person that is responsible for creating this question is none other than rookie shortstop Trevor Story.

Story earned a starting spot on the Rockies after he posted impressive numbers this Spring Training. Even after his stellar performance in the spring, no one predicted for him to get off to this kind of start, not the fans, the media, or any baseball analyst.

In the Colorado Rockies first game of 2016 they faced the Arizona Diamondbacks led by their newly acquired ace, Zack Greinke. In 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Greinke posted the ninth best ERA in baseball history with a 1.66, so expectations were high in his first start of 2016. But don’t bother telling Trevor Story he should be intimidated by Greinke. Story became the first player in MLB history to hit two home runs in a big league début on opening day, both coming off  Greinke. With this breakout performance, Story had the Colorado fan base going wild. There was even a picture that circulated around social media of a fan wearing a Tulowitzki jersey that had Story’s name taped over Tulo’s.

                                                                                                    Image via http://www.denverpost.com

Following his opening day performance, expectations were through the roof for the former 1st round draft pick. So as everyone predicted of course, he would hit another home run in his second career game off of talented pitcher Shelby Miller. With this, Story became the third player in baseball history to hit three home runs in the first two games of his career. But he wasn’t done yet, in his fourth career Major League game, Trevor Story homered twice against the San Diego Padres becoming the first rookie in baseball history to begin a career with two multi-homer games in his first four games. Another notable record that Trevor is a part of is becoming the fifth player to homer in their team’s first four games of the season.

As of now, the Rockies shortstop is batting .333 with 7 home runs in 6 games…Wow. The numbers he has put up cannot be described as anything less than astounding. And he’s on pace to get video game like stats.

You should give credit where credit is due, it is not easy to follow in a superstar’s footsteps, just ask New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius when he took over after Derek Jeter retired. The question that was asked after his first game and is still asked now is if Trevor Story is going to be able to keep up his historic run? An article titled Rockies’ Trevor Story Homers in Record 4th Straight Game from cbc.ca.com, includes quotes from Story and teammate Carlos Gonzalez, Story says, “I’ve said it before, I’m not trying to hit home runs, sometimes it kind of happens,” and later Gonzalez adds, “He’s fearless. He’s playing like a Hall of Famer right now.” With his quote, Story appears humble while downplaying his recent success and his teammate known as CarGo praises the young player like most of his other teammates are probably doing.

The media coverage around the rookie phenomenon has been extensive and rightfully so, this kid has become the talk of not only Rockies fans and media but media and fans league-wide. At this point, Story is probably accustomed to being swarmed by mobs full of baseball writers, journalists, and reporters following games. But there have already been some wild comparisons between the former LSU Tiger and some of the MLB’s all-time greats. In an article from The Score com titled How Does Story’s Debut Rank Against MLB’s Greatest? Author George Halim stacks Trevor Story up against Babe Ruth among others. First he writes about Story, “In his first four major-league games, the Rockies rookie is the best hitter in the majors, and the greatest of all time.” Well that is quite the statement if I do say so myself, later Halim talks about Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, “At one point, he was the home run king, and his career is among the greatest ever. But Ruth’s first four major-league games? Not so historic.” So as you can see with this specific example it is ridiculous to even put Trevor Story in the same sentence as Babe Ruth. Story has gotten off to a historic start but there is still no need to compare him to any Hall of Famers because he has still only played seven career games at the Major League level.

There is no telling how long this player will stay hot or continue to mash home runs for his team but even if he doesn’t hit another homer all year he has still broken multiple records and caused a league-wide media frenzy during this first week of baseball. Personally I am rooting for Story to continue his excellent play because it makes baseball so much fun to watch. Only time will tell what player he will eventually become but he has certainly made a name for himself quickly. I also recommend you to pick him up in your fantasy league if you haven’t already, you can bet I have.